20 Oct 2005, CANCUN, Mexico — Hurricane Wilma — Image by © DANIEL AGUILAR/Reuters/Corbis

Every year on this day I am drawn back to 3 March 1993. At the time, I was an executive secretary for a wholesale and retail distributor of health and beauty aids during the week and the assistant to the pastor of a Hispanic church in Laurel, Maryland on the weekends. Much of our congregation was Cuban, many with strong ties to Miami and most with relatives living there. We had watched with horror as Hurricane Andrew swept through Miami in the early hours of 24 August 1992. In the weeks that followed, I went to the president of the company and asked if we could send something down. He agreed and arrangements began to be made.

The only way to describe the next year of my life is miraculous. The goods were acquired and shipped to the parish whose ministry was to the four migrant camps in South Dade County. While making the arrangements for the shipment, I became acquainted with the gentleman running the tent city behind St. Ann’s Parish in Naranja. It was in following up with him several weeks later that I made the acquaintance of the priest who ministered to the families in the migrant camps. Having heard of the work I was involved with in Maryland, he invited me to Miami to see how they did it there and to teach music to the children. Dates were set, but there was no money for plane tickets or materials.

Each day, I searched for guidance during my daily devotions. In 1991, I had begun using Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman. The entry for 3 March offered a quote by Dr. John Henry Jowett.

“Evil never surrenders its hold without a sore fight. We never pass into any spiritual inheritance through the delightful exercises of a picnic, but always through the grim contentions of the battlefield. It is so in the secret realm of the soul. Every faculty which wins its spiritual freedom does so at the price of blood. Apolloyon is not put to flight by a courteous request, he straddles across the full breadth of the way, and our progress has to be registered in blood and tears. This we must remember or we shall add to all the other burdens of life the gall of misinterpretation. We are not ‘born again’ into soft protected nurseries, but in the open country where we suck strength from the very terror of the tempest. We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of G-d.” (Emphasis added.)

I felt my heart stick in my throat. I didn’t want to be in the open country, unprotected, vulnerable, required to fight to survive. I wanted to be on much more friendly ground, with people who loved me and leaders who would protect me. I wanted safety at the most primal levels possible. I felt like it was wrong and unfair of G-d to put me in such a position if He truly did love me. The possibility that just in the process of living, I could be badly hurt or killed struck home with a terrifying thud. And I was planning on going to a hurricane recovery zone in the month of August, one year after one of the worst hurricanes in history ran over Miami. Was I nuts???

I had already seen enough of the more difficult side of life to know that was a very real possibility. But I was at a point in my life where I had never been before. Here, I had been minding my own business, or at least I thought I had been, and everything started changing. I didn’t know what G-d was up to, but I knew it was something big and, somehow, I was a part of it. I was thrilled and terrified at the same time. When I read this devotional, it went right through me in a way that I knew G-d was talking straight to me. One quote kept echoing in my head.

“We are not ‘born again’ into soft protected nurseries, but in the open country where we suck strength from the very terror of the tempest.”

I didn’t have any idea what was going to happen, but I knew I was supposed to go to school on that quote. So I did. Hundreds, maybe thousands of times, I turned it over and over in my spirit trying to understand what I was supposed to learn from it. I was never comfortable with it, but always felt on high alert any time I was considering it.

Weeks passed. Plans for the music came miraculously in place. Money for the plane ticket arrived at nearly the last possible moment. Everyone who needed to be on board was.

Somewhere in June, after the start of hurricane season, it occurred to me that if it could happen once, it could happen again. So I asked G-d.

“Are we going to have a hurricane while I am in Miami?”

And He replied, “No you aren’t going to have a hurricane while you are in Miami.”

So it was set: no hurricanes, no problems. I continued learning everything I could find out about post-Andrew Miami and steeling myself the best I could for the emotional impact of the devastation.

When I arrived on Friday, 20 August 1993, I was met at the airport by the parish priest. It was 10:30 PM and dark out. Even so, I could see incredible amounts of destruction nearly everywhere I looked. The airport itself, the trees and grounds all bore evidence of the terrible blow that had befallen them.

On the trip to the mission compound, I learned that the priest was originally from Cuba and had arrived in Miami from an extended posting in Paris just four weeks before Andrew struck. He had barely had time to say, “Hello!” before he was hiding in the church with some of his congregants during the terrifying ordeal a year earlier.

The week I arrived, his housekeeper had left three days earlier to take care of some family matters and wasn’t scheduled to return for some time, so it was just us, the teaching brother and a couple of Latino guys that helped around the compound. As we continued our nearly hour drive, I had the opportunity to see some of the places along Route 1 with which I had become familiar with through pictures provided by a high school chum who worked at the Miami Herald. Although it was dark, I could tell it wasn’t good.

We arrived at the mission compound and I learned that I would be staying in the trailer out back. Electricity was jerry-rigged because repairs hadn’t gotten that far yet. Interesting. I was allotted: a blanket to sleep on, one to put over me, a couple of sheets and a pillow; a pot to cook in; a glass, cup, bowl, and plate; a knife, fork, spoon and a couple of cooking utensils. That meager collection was all that was available at the compound. Everything else was either being used by someone else or had been destroyed.

The next morning, I was doing breakfast dishes in the rectory when the priest came in and excitedly called for me to come outside. Circling overhead was a Miami-Dade police helicopter doing surveillance of the house two doors down across the street. All that was left after Andrew was the concrete block shell and a roof. Yet, it was the kiosk for the local drug dealers. That is when the priest told me that I was to be very careful and not ever go outside of the mission compound without an escort. I thought he was being a wonderful Latino gentleman and it couldn’t possibly be that bad. He wasn’t; it was worse than even he thought. Two days later he found out that two of the men who were staying at the compound were stealing from the warehouse and selling things on the street for drug money. Even the compound wasn’t secure. For most of the remainder of my stay, I was secured behind wrought-iron gates and wrought-iron barred windows whose fortifications were driven deep into the concrete structure.

Over the weekend, weather reports had begun to talk about a couple of weather systems out in the Atlantic. By Tuesday, 24 August 1993 – the first anniversary of Hurricane Andrew – they were strengthening and organizing. Skies became leaden gray, wind picked up, rain bands began to cycle through. The priest was becoming so distraught at the possibility they might go through another hurricane that his friends bought him a plane ticket and sent him to New York for a week. But I was still there and now the one person I knew was not in the compound.

It had taken me three days after I landed to realize I was dealing with spiritual warfare and demonic forces I had never encountered before. I would pray and Satan would be right in front of me telling me he could do anything he wanted and there was nothing I could do about it. He could shut down my prayers and my cries for help wouldn’t even get past my lips. The oppression of evil was so intense there, I was in second by second submission to G-d, something that had never happened in my experience. I understood I was in a very dangerous place. And now there were two hurricanes coming our direction, one of them straight down the same pipeline Hurricane Andrew had followed the year before. It was very frightening.

The effect of this information on Miami was devastating. Two million people were reliving the trauma from Hurricane Andrew and its aftermath. The priest, the others at the compound, the news, the newspapers, . . . everyone, it seemed, in the county were almost unhinged at the prospect of another hurricane. It had been very hard for me to focus and not be swept up in the mounting anxiety and emotions. I was afraid, but I hadn’t lived through their terror, so I was apprehensive, but not unduly so.

A couple of days after the priest had left, I was coming from the church to the trailer with Satan dogging my steps all the way. At some point, I had made the adjustment to his ongoing presence, but it was like I was walking around in a bubble: the evil could get right up almost next to me, but there was a type of “force-field” all around me which it could not penetrate. I NEVER went anywhere that G-d did not tell me to go, . . . ever. I understood that the force-field was His hedge of protection.

Finally, for the sixteen millionth time, Satan was going on and on about how these hurricanes were coming and I was in the middle of what could very well be the impact zone, so what was I going to do about it. And I got very, very angry!!!

“My G-d said there will not be a hurricane while I am down here and there will not be a hurricane!!!!!” I shouted at the wind and rain in my face.

I was shocked and surprised. Where did that come from??? I quickly thought about what I had said and checked to see if I wanted to change anything. Do I really want to say that??? Yes, I decided, I did. I didn’t really have much choice. Either G-d was with me and had put this whole thing together, or He had not. Either way, I was there now and I would just have to ride it out and see what would happen.

It took another five days to get the answer. After bearing down toward Miami for several days, the storms abruptly turned north and never came anywhere close to south Florida.

At the moment I shouted at Satan that I believed MY G-d and not the winds and rain he was using to terrorize us, I could feel the strength flowing into me like a flood. The harder it blew, the more strength I felt. I finally understood what Dr. Jowett had been talking about because I had lived it. I had seen the tempest and had sucked strength from its very terror. How blessed I am to have been given that opportunity!

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